Genetic manipulation of Patescibacteria provides mechanistic insights into microbial dark matter and the epibiotic lifestyle

Cell. 2023 Oct 26;186(22):4803-4817.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2023.08.017. Epub 2023 Sep 7.


Patescibacteria, also known as the candidate phyla radiation (CPR), are a diverse group of bacteria that constitute a disproportionately large fraction of microbial dark matter. Its few cultivated members, belonging mostly to Saccharibacteria, grow as epibionts on host Actinobacteria. Due to a lack of suitable tools, the genetic basis of this lifestyle and other unique features of Patescibacteira remain unexplored. Here, we show that Saccharibacteria exhibit natural competence, and we exploit this property for their genetic manipulation. Imaging of fluorescent protein-labeled Saccharibacteria provides high spatiotemporal resolution of phenomena accompanying epibiotic growth, and a transposon-insertion sequencing (Tn-seq) genome-wide screen reveals the contribution of enigmatic Saccharibacterial genes to growth on their hosts. Finally, we leverage metagenomic data to provide cutting-edge protein structure-based bioinformatic resources that support the strain Southlakia epibionticum and its corresponding host, Actinomyces israelii, as a model system for unlocking the molecular underpinnings of the epibiotic lifestyle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actinobacteria / physiology
  • Bacteria* / classification
  • Bacteria* / genetics
  • Bacteria* / growth & development
  • Metagenome
  • Metagenomics
  • Phylogeny